Brexit offers more opportunities than threats
Oh how well I remember the sunny days and the balmy nights of Sri Lanka. Life went on serenely in this paradise island, despite the madness of the politicians occasionally thrusting their noses into daily life.
How I long for that serenity when here in the UK we have had four years of utter social and political madness, with politicians going on a policy rampage, the media writing more than its usual share of drivel whilst families and friends have become divided by the ever-present Brexit debate.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we then had Covid-19 thrust upon us, along with the rest of the world, in the early months of this year. At first, despite the terror invoked into the population by the government and medical experts alike, it seemed to provide a welcome break from the Brexit madness. For once the newspaper headlines were different – it was quite refreshing, if frightening.
However, both Brexit and Covid-19 have had profound impacts upon our society and those impacts provide dangers and opportunities for Sri Lanka. First let me explain some of the impacts.
Brexit has divided our country into Brexiteers and Remoaners. Despite the UK leaving the EU at precisely 11 p.m. GMT on 31st January 2020, the Remoaners continue to fight a rear-guard action to try and stop our island nation becoming, once more, truly self-governing and independent. Meanwhile, Brexiteers view the on-going trade negotiations with the EU with deep suspicion as they suspect trickery behind every move. Many members of the British public have gone about their business amused or bemused by these goings on, planning their holidays in France or Italy as normal. Many more have hardened their stances and now refuse to buy EU goods or consider EU holidays.
Then Covid-19 came along and turned us all into a bunch of scaredy-cats. First we had lockdown with dire warnings of an overwhelmed National Health Service, then we had social distancing, hand washing and face masks. Amazingly social distancing and face-masks have created a further split in our already fractured social fabric. As I glare at someone who invades my new two metre social distancing personal space, someone else is remonstrating with a person who refuses to wear a face mask whilst shopping. The hatred pouring out has not been improved by the damage done by Black Lives Matter demonstrations (and the inevitable rise of some very nasty ultra-right factions), Extinction Rebellion environmental protests and wokery trying to rewrite or eliminate some of the more unpleasant realities of our history.
In short, we are a society which seems to be at war with itself and pretty much everyone else; but there is hope. A trade agreement or not, by the end of this year the final break with the EU will be complete. Meanwhile we are learning to live with Covid-19 and hopefully a vaccine will emerge in the not too distant future. BLM, ER and wokery are no doubt going to be with us a little longer too, but they will also fizzle out as new things to get cross about emerge.
For Sri Lankans this might all seem irrelevant, but those dangers and opportunities do exist.
The dangers lie in no trade deal being agreed with the EU and the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules. That will affect the GSP+ scheme that Sri Lanka currently enjoys with the EU and therefore the UK. Will it end once there is no trade deal, a threat that could result in Sri Lankan imports facing tariffs when entering the UK? It is in the interests of the UK as much as Sri Lanka that a solution is found, and quickly. The current government in the UK, especially in the form of Liz Truss, the International Trade Minister, is world trade friendly and Commonwealth friendly.
So that threat could be, at least negated, or possibly even turned into an advantage. Many British parliamentarians are becoming increasingly anti-Chinese in their thinking and the Sri Lankan garment trade could benefit from this if played cleverly.
Of course tea and rubber also feature as export products, but there are big chances to increase the tourism trade. Sri Lanka has been blessed with a low impact from Covid-19 and that will make it a more attractive destination for UK tourists in the fullness of time and if sold properly. The prospects for jobs growth within tourism from the UK are immense, especially as the 2019 Easter bombings fade in people’s memories.
All of these opportunities are largely the domain of the government and I am sure the new government will not be inactive in fostering more trade.
For the private sector, however, there are even bigger opportunities. Perhaps I am biased, but I believe there is a deep respect for Sri Lanka in the UK and, of course, we have a large Sri Lankan diaspora here. Trade with the EU was on the wane before Brexit; the private sector was seeking to expand their business opportunities overseas, but often felt held back by EU regulations. Within a few months all of that will be gone and opportunities aplenty will arise.
Now is the time for Sri Lankan businesses to seek partnerships with British companies. Let’s face it, the energy sector in Sri Lanka is a mess, but there are many innovative British companies working on environmentally friendly energy solutions who might be enticed to enter into partnerships with Sri Lankan companies. Likewise, the ICT sector still holds plenty of opportunities, as does agriculture.
So now is the time for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to use their world famed skills and go seek the many opportunities that Brexit can provide.